Go Beyond Greenwashing. 33 Must-Reads to Understand Corporate Social Impact

January 22, 2020 | By Sheila Herrling and Audrey Voorhees

We are at an inflection point where the stakes are high to reimagine how capitalism and democracy work for everyone. Critical to that reimagination is a movement to evolve the thinking around the role of corporations in driving social impact at the scale that today’s challenges require. Milton Friedman’s notion that the only social responsibility of business is to maximize profit is increasingly being questioned by many, including investors, philanthropists, business leaders, policymakers, and perhaps most notably Millennials, who will represent the future workforce and consumers. People want to buy from, work for, invest in, and donate to companies that identify as social enterprises. Corporate CEOs stand poised to seize the greatest opportunity of their lifetime to deliver both greater financial returns and social returns at scale that could, quite literally, make the world a better, more equitable place.

That said, it’s complicated terrain. Accelerating the movement requires proof points of companies pursuing and achieving financial and social gains, how-to’s for those who are convinced of the value but don’t know where to start, and a solid understanding and appreciation of the counter-arguments.

As we set out to better understand the ideas, actors, flashpoints, and gaps in the corporate social impact (CSI) movement, we learned and built upon the work of others. You can see our full landscape analysis presentation here. As part of our work, we also pulled together what we feel is a “Must Read List” for anyone interested in the role corporates are and could be playing in driving social impact at scale and ensuring that capitalism works for all. We’ve done our best to share a diverse list of authors and viewpoints.

First, get situated in the early, foundational work; corporate social impact is not a new idea.

Second, make sure you understand all sides of the argument; you can’t advance a movement without knowing and truly appreciating all views.

On the pro side, we found these particularly interesting with…

…Compelling arguments 

…Key moments and decisions that served as flashpoints accelerating the movement

…A great new media series

…And many framed within the broader movement to reimagine Capitalism

On the counter-argument side, our thinking was informed by:

Third, understand the landscape of actors and activities that can drive the movement forward.

Once the foundational arguments were absorbed, we began to create the landscape of actors and plot them across a grouping of activities and historical flashpoints that were driving the movement forward. You can view that landscape analysis here. [link to the blog]. Among the gaps standing in the way of mainstreaming the movement, two seemed ripe to solve for in the near-term: how-to content for the already convinced, and the need for a uniform, involuntary impact measurement standard.

For those companies convinced of the need to embed social impact into their operations, there’s not a lot of public content out there. Here’s some we found useful and we hope to see more.

We are convinced that the movement will continue to stall without agreement on a uniform, involuntary impact measurement standard; here’s food for thought.

That’s our must list; for those wanting a deeper dive, here are some of the books on the topic that influenced our work. Dig in!

 

 


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Cover Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

 

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